7 Times Duke Energy Was Too Close for Comfort With North Carolina Government
by Michael Zytkow
September 23, 2016
How should a massive utility company like Duke Energy engage with state politicians? Not like this.
“Our relationship with North Carolina [government] is an appropriate one. We are a regulated company in this state and we have involvement with regulators, stakeholders, customers in a way that you would expect us to.”
Duke Energy CEO, Lynn Good
Good made this statement — shown in the video above — during a merger hearing for Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas after being asked about the company’s influence within North Carolina’s government.
Appropriate and expected? We disagree.
Duke Energy has consistently used its influence and access to advance its dirty energy agenda over what’s best for the people of North Carolina. Here’s how.
1. Duke is the top special interest influencer in North Carolina …
The company has made thousands of dollars in North Carolina campaign contributions, going to both Democrats and Republicans. Incumbent Republican governor Pat McCrory, who is up for reelection this year, has received $28,000 directly from Duke and Progress Energy (which merged with Duke in 2012) while Democratic challenger Roy Cooper has received $43,750.
2. … and the top campaign donor to Governor Pat McCrory.
Duke is McCrory’s largest direct campaign contributor. During the company’s recent coal ash crisis, Duke dramatically increased its contributions to groups backing McCrory. For instance, Duke’s contributions to the Republican Governors Association increased to more than ten times its previous annual highest amount. Duke donated to groups like Real Jobs North Carolina and the North Carolina Republican Party, who in turn donated to McCrory’s campaign.
According to analysis by Democracy North Carolina, contributions from Duke’s PAC, its employees, former employees, and their spouses total $1.1 million to McCrory’s 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns.
3. Private meetings between Duke and state officials get in the way of coal ash cleanup …
Earlier this, CEO Lynn Good had a private meeting at the governor’s mansion with McCrory while a coal ash settlement between Duke and the state was still under consideration. Days later, McCrory’s Department of Environmental Quality gave Duke permission to move coal ash from pits around the state to clay mines in Chatham and Lee Counties, as Duke had publicly requested.
While the coal ash bill was being debated, Good and a Duke lobbyist also met with Senate leader Phil Berger and the chair of the rules committee Tom Apodaca.
4. … get health warnings rescinded …
Last year, state government tests found that cancer-causing chemicals were present in hundreds of private wells near Duke-owned coal ash ponds. Duke denied that coal ash was the source of the contamination and claimed the water was safe to drink.
State scientists testified in sworn depositions that they were pressured by the McCrory administration to withdraw warning about the safety of the drinking water.
5. … and yield reduced fines.
Duke was fined $25 million by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for coal ash pollution that had been occurring for years, but that fine was reduced to $7 million after Duke claimed “regulatory overreach.” As part of the settlement, the department would not take action about any further coal ash violations occurring at the 14 disposal sites.
6. Duke’s former employees are at all levels of North Carolina government, including the very top …
Governor McCrory has a long relationship with Duke, both as a stockholder and former 28-year employee. His administration hired special counsel Craig Bromby, who had previously worked for Duke, to represent the government in a lawsuit brought by environmentalists over groundwater contamination regulations.
North Carolina Representative Mike Hager is also a former Duke engineer who is one of the top recipients of campaign contributions from Duke in the legislature. He has consistently supported efforts to repeal North Carolina’s renewable portfolio standard, a state provision requiring utilities to generate more electricity from clean energy.
7. … paving the way for natural gas expansion and more fracking in the state.
For his part, McCrory signed a law that lifts the state’s moratorium on fracking permits in 2014. He also supports the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which Duke Energy partially owns, and has strong ties to groups working for the expansion of the gas industry like Americans for Prosperity, Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalitions, and Moore & Van Allen.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission is currently considering the merger of Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas, which would further increase Duke’s monopoly control over energy in the state.
With Duke avoiding real coal ash cleanup, profiting off the expansion of natural gas, and blocking the expansion of renewable energy, can CEO Lynn Good really say Duke has an appropriate relationship with North Carolina Government?
Duke reaps profit while it pollutes our environment and democracy. It’s time to put an end to this. Tell North Carolina candidates: put people before polluters!